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Sarah Palin's nomination for Vice President has changed the dynamics of the presidential race.

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

When John McCain introduced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his Republican running mate, he swiped and switched Barack Obama’s campaign mantra, “McCain: More of the same.” The Republican presidential campaign ticket’s latest TV ad assaults Obama’s change message as “more of the same.”

“I’ve found just the right partner to help me shake up Washington,” declared McCain at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.


Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Sarah Palin addresses delegates Wednesday night at the GOP convention.

“I can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington,” McCain said with a wry grin. “And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman echoed the “shake ‘em up” message, extolling Palin’s crusade against special interests, corruption, power brokers and the “good old boys’ club.”

“She is a leader we can count on to help John shake up Washington,” asserted the Connecticut senator. “That’s why the McCain-Palin ticket is the real ticket for change this year. The Washington bureaucrats and power brokers can’t build a pen strong enough to hold these two mavericks.”

“This is an outstanding combination — the right ticket to win Colorado!” former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm declared to The Colorado Statesman. “We will win Colorado!”

Choosing Palin — who has no experience in national or foreign policy — according to the Obama campaign questions the integrity of McCain’s campaign slogan and GOP convention theme, “country first.”

McCain made the announcement Aug. 29 — a day after Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination. The news flash deflated Obama’s media attention and inflated public interest in McCain and Palin — and on the Republican National Convention, which began two days later.

McCain introduced Palin to America at a rally of 12,000 people on Wright State University campus in Dayton, Ohio — the same state that delivered thousands of women’s votes for Hillary Clinton during the March primary.

The strategic choice and announcement in Ohio, however, also aimed to capture the blue-collar workers who favored Clinton over Obama. The Democrats hope that Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, will appeal to both voting blocs.

The pro-life, pro-gun, pro-death-penalty Palin has energized Republican voters, particularly the social conservatives and evangelicals who perceive McCain as a moderate with a sketchy “family values” record.

Six months ago, James Dobson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, vowed,

“I cannot and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain as a matter of conscience.” Dobson listed myriad reasons, including, “a legendary temper… (and) foul and obscene language.”

But Dobson was so impressed by Palin’s speech in Dayton that he told journalists that he’d changed his mind and will push the lever for the Republican presidential ticket.

“She’s strong on marriage, she’s a fiscal conservative, she’s a proven reformer, and she hates corruption,” Dobson told Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, who were broadcasting their Fox News show from Colorado Springs. “…I’ll vote for the ticket. At least that is what I believe and what I feel.”

McCain extolled her experience and leadership capabilities.

“Governor Palin is a tough executive who has demonstrated during her time in office that she is ready to be vice president. She is exactly who this country needs to help us fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second.”

Obama campaign spokesperson Adrianne Marsh countered, “Governor Palin shares John McCain’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies. That’s not the change we need. It’s just more of the same.”

“John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency,” warned Marsh.

A Republican rock star is born

“Sarah Palin is a political rock star!” exclaimed Colorado Attorney General John Suthers on the convention floor. “She said everything she needed to, and people love her!”

In February, Palin knew she was on the “long list” for the second-in-command job, but reporters in Anchorage said that to be seriously considered she needed to create a national media profile.

The governor hit national TV news shows to promote oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), “Palin for vice president” videos appeared on YouTube in July, and Palin for America Web site visitors were encouraged to “contact John McCain today and urge him to choose Sarah Palin as his vice president.”

A former beauty queen and sports reporter, Palin is adept at public relations.

When Craig Ferguson, host of The Late, Late Show on CBS, complained last year that his American citizenship was delayed, the governor sent a video of herself offering “honorary citizenship” in Alaska.

“This is God’s country,” said Palin, enticing Ferguson to visit the state. “We’ll let you partake of rich, succulent wild Alaskan salmon.”

“I think she was coming on to me… I don’t mean to be disrespectful of your sexiness,” kidded Ferguson with a wink.

Sometimes Palin’s beauty is noticed more than her brains. A White House correspondent described her mental prowess and determination, and then blurted, “She has an appearance that stops traffic.”

Gun-totin’ Palin settled the “wild, wild Northwest”

In an Annie Oakley of Alaska speech, Palin pivoted her rifle from bagging caribou to blasting Obama and East Coast elitists. She had three targets: bolstering McCain, boosting her experience and belittling the Obama-Biden ticket.

“I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids’ public education better,” said Palin, describing her political ascension from Wasilla, Alaska, to GOP vice-presidential nominee.

After serving two terms on the Wasilla City Council, the 44-year-old Republican was elected mayor in 1996 and 1999. Palin said she upheld her campaign vows to lower property taxes by 40 percent and cut her own salary.

In 2006, Palin became the first woman governor of Alaska, the largest state in land mass and, with a 684,000 residents, the state with the third lowest population.

Palin said volumes about her tenacity and spunk when she impetuously invoked, “the only difference between a hockey mom and a bulldog is lipstick.”

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer — except that you have actual responsibilities,” said Palin, deriding a job once held by Obama on Chicago’s South Side.

“I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening,” cracked Palin. “We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.”

Obama had made the comment about voters who had lost jobs in Pennsylvania during an April campaign appearance in California. Later, Obama said he had been expressing the frustration of unemployed workers with status quo Washington politics.

If the Republican presidential ticket wins in November, Palin pledged to “govern with integrity, goodwill, clear convictions and a servant’s heart.”

“This was the same spirit that brought me to the governor’s office, when I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau, when I stoop up to special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies and the good old boys network,” avowed Palin.

“When oil and gas prices went up dramatically and filled up state treasury, I sent a large share of that revenue back where it belonged — directly to the people of Alaska,” Palin said.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend was created in 1980, and dividends are based on a five-year average of the fund’s earnings from the gas and oil taxes that were increased under Palin. This year, she authorized a one-time additional rebate of $1,200 for each citizen, raising the average dividend to $3,269.

Palin told the GOP convention that she had thumbed her nose at the “Bridge to Nowhere” that became the symbol of pork barrel spending, championed reform to end abuses of earmark spending in Congress, and issued refund checks to Alaska citizens from an account for gas and oil fees.

Although she sounded like a McCain-cloned maverick, records show a “spiritual rebirth” that might have transpired more recently.

As mayor of Wasilla, Palin contracted a Washington lobbyist to secure $27 million in earmarks for the small town. The practice of using lobbyists to win federal funds has continued.

“I told Congress ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ If our state wanted a bridge, we’d build it ourselves,” said Palin of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” earmarks.

In 2005, Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens pushed for $398 million in federal funds to construct the Gravina Island and Knik Arm bridges, which were collectively coined the “Bridge to Nowhere.” The project gained national attention when Stevens refused to relinquish the money to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. Alaska later received the federal funds, but most of it was designated for other projects.

Palin supported the “Bridge to Nowhere” during her campaign for governor in 2006, the same year she appeared with Stevens in a television ad endorsing her candidacy.

In 2003, Stevens chose Palin as a director of his 527 committee, “Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service,” which raised money to promote Republican women in politics. Palin removed her name from the 527 committee incorporation papers in 2005.

During a July 2 press conference convened by Palin and Stevens, the governor faced the end of a long era of Alaska’s earmarks for pork barrel projects.

“Changes are coming. Both presidential candidates have confirmed they will work toward earmark reform. So just recognizing that, seeing the writing on the wall and dealing with it is where I am,” said Palin during the press conference that was filmed and posted on YouTube.

A few weeks later, Stevens was indicted on seven counts of criminal misconduct, but maintained his innocence. Young, who is seeking re-election, is under investigation for ethical violations.

Intimates and Investigations

Palin also is under an investigation ordered by the Alaska State Legislature for allegedly attempting to have her former brother-in-law disciplined or fired from his job as a state trooper.

Mike Wooten married Palin’s sister Molly in 2001, and divorce proceedings were initiated four years later. During the acrimonious custody battle, Palin complained to the Alaska State Police Chief that Wooten had allegedly threatened to kill her father, Tasered his 10-year-old stepson, drank alcohol while driving a state-owned vehicle and shot a moose outside of the legal hunting season.

The ensuing internal investigation validated few of the allegations, however. Wooten, who was suspended for five days without pay, later admitted to reporters that he had Tasered the child, but it was at the boy’s request. He maintained that the weapon was on training mode, dispensing a lighter-than-full-strength charge.

In January, Palin and her husband allegedly complained about Wooten to Walter Monegan, Alaska’s public safety director. Monegan declined to reopen the case, and six months later he was fired. Palin said Monegan was removed because of policy differences. Monegan disputes that assertion.

The investigation was slated to conclude in November, but has been moved up to Oct. 10.

“The investigation won’t turn up anything to hurt Palin,” said Suthers, adding that cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the governor. “This allegation of wrongdoing would have been thoroughly checked in the vetting process by the McCain campaign.”

Whatever stone was left unturned in the McCain campaign’s vetting process of Palin is being probed by the media. Within 48 hours of McCain announcing his running mate, Palin became the subject of relentless rumors — many emanating from bloggers and tabloids.

Consequently, each day of the convention opened with another episode in Days of Our Lives.

A “Baby Boom” episode emerged Sept. 1, when the McCain campaign issued a press statement from the Palin couple that read in part:

“We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned… Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi (Johnston’s) privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.”

The statement was issued reluctantly by the Palin couple to scotch a rumor that their 4-month old son actually was the child of their 17-year-old daughter — and that the governor had faked her pregnancy. The rumors emanated from bloggers on the Internet where they might have remained unnoticed. The McCain press statement propelled groundless gossip into mainstream media.

Several Colorado delegates were outraged over the rumor and subsequent invasion of the Palin family’s privacy. However, the statement underscored the family’s arduous pro-life, pro-family values.

“This is not an issue,” said Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams. “It would only be a disaster if Sarah Palin had forced her daughter to get an abortion. If the Obama campaign is smart, they won’t dare bring this up, because it will hurt them.”

Obama responded to media inquiries — but in defense of Palin’s daughter. “I was born to an 18-year-old mother,” he said, adding that “children should be off limits. This should not be part of politics.”

“There will be some women who think Sarah Palin ought to be home as a mother attending to these family problems and needs,” said Suthers of the teenage pregnancy and baby born with Down Syndrome. “But most of these women won’t vote for Obama — they’ll support McCain and Palin.”

“It’s ridiculous for the media to probe personal families,” said El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams, adding that the Palin family stood staunchly for life of the unborn.

“Affair Not to Remember” began circulating on the third day of the GOP convention. Blogs prattled about an alleged romance between the governor and a business partner of her husband — a front-page story in the National Enquirer.

McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt issued the following statement:

“The smearing of the Palin family must end. The allegations contained on the cover of the National Enquirer insinuating that Gov. Palin had an extramarital affair are categorically false. It is a vicious lie. The efforts of the media and tabloids to destroy this fine and accomplished public servant are a disgrace. The American people will reject it.

“Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin look forward to discussing the issues that Americans care about, fixing broken government, creating jobs, making our country energy independent and securing the peace for the next generation by bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a victorious end.

“Legal action will be considered with regard to this disgraceful smear.”

Perhaps the scuttlebutt smoldered from another affair, divorce and remarriage within Palin’s cabinet. Since taking office in January 2007, the governor has named several friends to high level posts.

Palin chose childhood friend John W. Bitney as her liaison to the Alaska Legislature. Deborah Richter, a longtime friend served Palin’s campaign treasurer and was appointed to head the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.

In November 2003, Sarah and Todd Palin and Debbie and Scott Richter bought a nearly 5-acre parcel of land in Wasilla. The Richters filed for divorce in July 2007, and deeded the property to the Palin couple after the divorce was decreed.

Last month, Debbie Richter married Palin’s legislative liaison Bitney in Soldotna, Alaska. Some infer that Palin knew of a romantic relationship between her friends last year. The governor fired Bitney around the time that the Richters filed for divorce.

But Palin is no lily easily bruised by every blogger’s bump or media mash.

“If you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.”

“But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country,” said Palin, whose warning shot evoked a raucous standing ovation.

Colorado delegate Kendall Unruh of Douglas County broadcast her support of Palin and disapproval of the media on her cowgirl hat.

“Media shame on you — pick on someone your own age” and “Support unwed mothers” were messages Unruh wrote on hotel coasters and attached to her hat.

Mavericks might butt heads

Although McCain and Palin claim to be kindred “maverick” spirits, their compatibility may be tested on a few issues where they differ including: funding earmarks in federal budgets, labor unions and drilling for oil in ANWR.

Palin has been married 20 years to her high school boyfriend, Todd Palin, a union member who works for BP. She, too, was a union member when the couple ran a fishing enterprise.

McCain has opposed earmarks; Palin exploited them until reality hit the wall in July.

McCain has opposed 527 committees for their secret corporate contributors that have undue influence in Congress; Palin served as a director of a 527 committee and abandoned the post when she decided to run for governor of Alaska.

McCain opposes opening ANWR to oil exploration. Palin is so adamant about increasing oil production in Alaska that she announced plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government to remove polar bears from the endangered species list. The bears impede oil production on the northern slope.

“They’re very, very healthy, and the number of polar bears has risen dramatically over the last 30 years,” Palin told CNN show host Glenn Beck in June. “We need that oil, we need that gas… We have these reserves, and they’re ready to be tapped.”

Palin believes drilling in ANWR will create oil production in five years — and that it’s imperative for national security to be self-reliant.

“I think he’s evolving, “ said Palin of McCain. “I think he’s going to evolve into eventually opening ANWR.”

Regardless of where the dust settles, Palin successfully energized the GOP convention and propelled the ticket into a popularity contest with the Democratic presidential ticket. After trailing for months, McCain is neck-and-neck with Obama.

“Governor Palin is an exciting choice that shakes up the dynamics of this presidential race,” declared Congressman Doug Lamborn. “She’s pro-life, pro-gun and anti-big government. What’s not to like about that?”

“She is everything Washington needs: a reformer with an independent streak who is willing to fight insider cronyism,” said Lamborn